ANAHEIM -- After winning just two of nine games at Angel Stadium last year, the Mariners will seek a three-game season-opening sweep of the Halos today with rookie left-hander James Paxton on the mound.
The Mariners haven't swept a three-game series in Anaheim since 2006.
Seattle had dropped nine of its last 12 games at Angel Stadium before rolling into town this week, but put up back-to-back wins behind the pitching of Felix Hernandez and Erasmo Ramirez. Now the Mariners will put the ball in the hands of a 25-year-old with four career Major League starts, all coming last September as a late-season callup.
Paxton opens this year as the club's No. 3 starter after spring injuries sidelined All-Star right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma and top young prospect Taijuan Walker, but he was 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA last September, including a 10-strikeout, no-walk performance against the Royals as well as wins over the Cardinals and Rays and a strong showing against the Tigers.
That success bolstered the youngster's confidence and has the Mariners curious how he might fare over the longer haul.
"I'm very excited to get this thing going and get on the mound again under the lights," Paxton said Tuesday. "It was very cool seeing the whole Opening Day thing. Now I'm just really excited to get out there."
New Angels left-hander Hector Santiago will be tasked with getting the Halos on track. Santiago was acquired as part of the three-team deal that sent Mark Trumbo to the D-backs in December. The 26-year-old had a 3.33 ERA while coming out of the bullpen for 38 of 42 games in 2012, then a 3.56 ERA while starting 23 of 34 games in 2013.
This will be Santiago's first full season as a starter. He throws five different pitches, including a screwball that he wants to use more often this year, though he knows he needs to lower the 4.6 walks per nine innings he averaged the last two years.
"Definitely," he said. "There's times where I throw 15 changeups that are nice and straight, and then there's some of them that just get massive depth to it. But right now, I feel great. I feel like I'm in the zone all the time, whenever I want to be. I feel like right now, I'm probably better than I've ever been with strikes in the zone."
The New Jersey native faced the Mariners six times in relief while with the White Sox, with three runs allowed in 7 2/3 innings. He hopes his deception cools down Seattle's hitters.
"I throw a four-seamer that will [start straight], and then all of a sudden take off to the right like a cutter," Santiago said. "Then I'll throw the next one and move it over a little bit and it'll stay straight, and I'm like, 'Come on, one or the other.' But that's not a bad thing, because they're seeing one straight, hopefully the first one, and then the next pitch has a little cut in it. That's where I get those jams."
As for Paxton? He's taken notes the last two nights and now will see if he can duplicate his teammates' early success, including the Opening Day win by Hernandez after the 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner fell behind early.
"It was awesome to watch Felix work," Paxton said. "He came out and gave up that two-run homer, then you could just see after that how he just locked in and fought to keep it right there and keep us in the game. He did his job. He gave us a chance to win and we were able to score some runs for him and get it done. It was a lot of fun."
Angels: Shutting down running game will be key
The Angels had plenty of struggles against opposing baserunners last season, sporting the third-lowest caught-stealing percentage (21.1) and allowing the second-most stolen bases (131) in the Majors.
Their troubles were highlighted during a two-game stretch from Aug. 6-7, when the Rangers stole a combined 13 bases (six with Chris Iannetta behind the plate, seven with Hank Conger behind the plate). Since then, though, pitchers became a lot more cognizant of holding runners. The Angels ranked 18th in opponents' stolen-base percentage the rest of the year, and they've thrown out two of four to start the season.
"We made some adjustments last year, probably a third of the way through the season with some guys," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Nothing is different this year from what we've done in the past as far as what the goal is."
Mariners: McClendon will platoon some
While Lloyd McClendon declines to define it as a strict platoon, the new Mariners skipper went with right-handed hitters Corey Hart at designated hitter and Stefen Romero in right field against the Angels on Tuesday against southpaw C.J. Wilson and indicated he'd likely stick with that pattern against lefty starters in the early going.
Left-handers Logan Morrison and Michael Saunders started at DH and in right field, respectively, on Opening Day against right-hander Jered Weaver. McClendon also replaced catcher Mike Zunino with veteran John Buck on Tuesday, but both are right-handed and he said that had strictly to do with keeping Buck sharp as he comes out of Spring Training.
"I think you could probably expect for the most part to see this," McClendon said of the right-handed lineup. "We want better balance against left-handers. I think Hart and Romero and sometimes Willie [Bloomquist] and Bucky, you get better balance.
"I'm not ready to say we have platoon-type lineup, but it's just a combination of things. It gives us better balance and it also gives me a chance to get these guys in early and keep them sharp. If you don't do that, you just wasted the last 25 days of spring. If guys sit for the first seven, eight days, that's no good."
• Albert Pujols enters Wednesday's game one RBI shy of becoming one of two active players -- along with the suspended Alex Rodriguez -- with at least 1,500 career RBIs. Only 51 players have ever reached that plateau. Pujols hit his 525th career double on Monday to move into a tie for 38th on the all-time list with Derek Jeter and Ted Williams.
• While the Mariners' eight-game Opening Day winning streak is the longest streak in the Majors since the Reds won nine straight openers from 1983-91, it's also the second longest in AL history behind the nine straight by the St. Louis Browns from 1937-45.
• When the Mariners recorded seven extra-base hits and eight walks in Monday's opener, it was the first time they'd totaled at least seven of each in the same game since Sept. 15, 2006. The seven extra-base hits were also their most on Opening Day.
• Zunino's and Dustin Ackley's triples on Monday were the first Opening Day triples by any Mariners player since Spike Owen in 1986.